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Anna Seghers School by AFF Architekten, Berlin, Germany

Behind the ornate brick facade of the Anna Seghers School in Berlin’s Aldershof district lies a modern architectural jewel. Photography by Hans-Christian Schink

Even when seen from the school’s internal courtyard, this addition by AFF Architekten merges discreetly into its surroundings. The building was required by the comprehensive school to accommodate all classes up to the Abitur level (German final school certificate), but architecturally it has little to do with the more imposing original complex.

In its modest, two-storey scale, the building has more in common with the school’s heterogeneous surroundings: rows of small houses, workshops, sheds and summer houses. With its elongated form, the addition resembles a narrow alley leading to the north of the site. To the east, a well-sheltered courtyard opens out to nearby allotment gardens.

Only on a second glance do you notice that at the back of the spacious schoolyard is a large cantilevered part of the extension with a huge window on to the teachers’ staffroom. This serves as a cockpit or a lookout platform, from where the routes around the school buildings and playground can all be surveyed. The cantilever protects the main entrance tucked underneath.

Inside the new building a totally different world exists. From floor to ceiling, a bright, almost fluorescent yellow suffuses the space. Minimal black details catch the eye, along with graphic animal symbols designed for the classroom doors. Break-time benches of fixed seating and double handrails on the staircases are also picked out in black. Everything else is finished in yellow and, after a while, your eyes become surprisingly used to this dazzling, monochrome environment. The children certainly seem to relish the space.

The internal planning is simple, with a series of rooms contained in the two-cornered building form, which tapers at both ends. Almost all the classrooms are square, defined by two types of large windows with fixed glazing and narrow frames, set into the external wall to provide generous internal sills. These two window types form a ribbon on the north facade. Side ventilation louvres are enclosed by external panels of decoratively perforated metal cladding. The facade is also articulated by an array of smaller openings set at alternating heights for adults or children.

The yellow extends into the upstairs corridors and individual classroom cloakrooms. Curtains across these cloakroom areas are made of washable Tyvek plastic. The architects first discovered this material during a trip to Sweden, where it is more commonly used as a camouflage for military vehicles in snow. They were impressed by its robust structure, which also fulfils fire-protection requirements, so decided to use it in the school. The moiré effect on the curtain is the result of overlapping two spot patterns of different diameters: the larger pattern is perforated and the smaller one printed. The surface animation is carried through to the external facade and gives this building a sense of being wrapped in a delicate, perforated carapace.

Templates were used to spray colour directly on to the cheap plaster finish of the insulation-clad walls. By carefully varying the abstract pattern across the walls, a unified whole has been achieved, bringing a lightness and playfulness to the architecture, which suits its young users. The theme of percolation also extends to the ceilings in the corridors.

The children identify with the strong character of the building’s design, in which there is always something fresh to discover. All this has been achieved at a budget of €2.9 million, satisfying all energy-saving building regulations.

Architect AFF Architekten

Interior lighting Trilux

Washroom fitting Grohe

Door fittings FSB

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